Few publications can conjure up as many memories as a high school yearbook. Dare to pull a dusty copy from your bookshelf and you are almost assured to spend a few hours of reminiscence. Each flip of the page brings the era back as if it were yesterday, making these very magical books indeed.
The frenzied line of students waiting to pick up their brand new yearbooks is a scene repeated annually and reflected in nostalgic movies for a number of reasons. Perhaps we can chalk it up to vanity; the first moments after cracking open a fresh yearbook were often spent digging through the pages, searching for pictures of themselves, their friends, their secret crush.
And usually, they found those pictures pretty quickly, if they knew where to look. There was always an abundance of candid snapshots, recording silliness in the halls or tomfoolery at lunch for future generations, who, when visiting their parents’ old yearbooks, would hardly believe that their parents had ever been capable of such behavior.
Posed pictures captured their swim team or their drama club. And even those who didn’t participate in extracurricular events could always find their school pictures, oft-wretched and offset by a draped “marble” blue background. If they were part of the graduating class, their senior pictures might have been air-brushed and formal, constricted to a special color photo section. These pictures often acted as sort of Pee Chee Folder, giving students the ability to deface the mugs of their enemies, and draw hearts around their would-be paramours.
The yearbook staff, however, wouldn’t be caught dead etching horns onto a rival’s picture. After countless late nights spent brainstorming a theme, learning computer design (or cutting-and-pasting, pre-computer), vacillating between colors from a pantone book, penning copy and reviewing proofs, any graffiti on their hard-earned yearbook wasn’t welcome– unless, of course, it was a signature or a note from someone featured on that page.
Yearbook signatures were generally the most memorable part of the experience. The last days of school were spent running from friend to friend, acquaintance, and teacher, to request that they sign their yearbook. Some students valued brevity. (“Have a good summer. Ben.”) Some students wrote tomes in their friends’ books, exchanging them and taking them home overnight. Others stuck with the classics (“look, I’m signing your crack,”) or poems they’d written themselves, often with questionable scansion –and taste. (“Love is good, sex is heaven, we’re the class of ’97!”)
To open one’s old yearbook and breeze through the old pictures and autographs is akin to digging up a time capsule. Friends you may have forgotten, fads that have long since faded, glimpses of a you that once was (and still is. You are what you were, remember?) Perhaps the frenzy over yearbooks has less to do with vanity, and more to do with memory; it was a way to capture and remember your time in school over the summer—and for the rest of you life.
Do you still have all of your yearbooks? Do you still pull them out on occasion and travel back in time? Are they covered with signatures? Share your thoughts on school yearbooks with all of us in the comments section, as we pay tribute to this scholastic tradition and the memories associated.